Everyone in our neighbourhood has been watching a major renovation to a home on our street. It looked like it was going to be beautiful. We may have been more interested than most onlookers because part of the project involved dismantling an ugly, dated sunroom – much like ours. A new porch went up in its place.
On the neighbour’s house, the white siding was stripped off and a dark, modern brick started going up. Then, we noticed that the brick started coming back down. A few days later several rows reappeared and then … nothing. Huge blue tarps went up over the garage and there was no movement outside that house for weeks. Instead of a beautiful exterior, our neighbour is left with exposed Tyvek, tarps flapping in the wind and a bare wood porch. It’s a mess. Everyone wondered what was going on.
Last week, some colourful, hand-made signs appeared on her front lawn. They told the homeowner’s story of an absentee contractor who made off with her cash. A few days later, she propped up scarecrow-like figures including one in a wheelchair parked on the boulevard. More signs appeared, followed by figures dressed like zombies. The more attention she gets, the more stuff goes on that yard. She includes her name and number as well as the name of the contractor.
Slowly, more of the story began to emerge, from her point of view, anyway. The contractor was down on his luck, the friend of a friend, and promised she could save some money if she paid him cash up front. Little by little, she handed over $45,000. At some point he gave up, for whatever reasons. It might have been her, it might have been him, but it was probably doomed from the get-go.
Coincidentally, we’ve since hired a contractor to tear down the dated and useless sunroom on the front of our house. It’s basically constructed out of a bunch of big windows fastened together, and was probably a gardener’s dream back in its day. But it’s an eyesore, so down it comes, to create an open area to the front door and an appealing (we hope!) set of steps and a landing. There’s a spinoff effect into a necessary purchase of new windows, some exterior painting, etc. that will have to be done in the spring but I say, bring it on. This man came recommended by our longtime friend/realtor and he isn’t asking for anything up front. Our mutual friend automatically makes us trustworthy to each other.
Anyone who’s seen an episode of Holmes on Homes knows you don’t hire a guy who takes all the cash before he starts work. A deposit is one thing, but a reputable contractor has the means to purchase materials and get started. Financing materials with a current job is a recipe for disaster. And frankly, when you avoid taxes, you’re taking money away from the rest of us – or not putting in your fair share. I understand the allure of the underground economy. But I also watch the Property Brothers. Everybody with only a nickel to spend wants a gourmet kitchen and vaulted ceilings but it’s not always possible. In addition to this job, we’ve done countless other upgrades and fixes over the years. We’ve had to be patient and prioritize. It’s just reality.
I applaud our neighbour for wanting to redo her house, and I get it. But this is a hard lesson and if this contractor is indeed down on his luck, she probably won’t see that money again. Maybe someone with a giant heart and free time will step up to help her, but Mike Holmes is out of the savior business. She says raccoons have moved into the attic and water is coming into the house. I’ll bet she wishes she could turn back time and either live with what she has, or pay a little more and have a beautifully finished home.